PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia (AFP) – Indonesian searchers promised an “all-out effort” Thursday to locate bodies from AirAsia Flight QZ8501 as international investigators joined the hunt for the ill-fated plane.
Seven bodies have so far been retrieved in the search for the Airbus A320-200, which crashed into the Java Sea with 162 people on board during a storm Sunday en route from Indonesia’s second city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Two of the dead – one male and one female – have been identified and will be handed over to relatives after formal confirmation Thursday, police said.
Rough weather Wednesday hampered efforts to locate and retrieve more bodies from the sea off the island of Borneo, but conditions improved briefly Thursday morning.
“The weather is clear today. We’re making an all-out effort to search for bodies and locate the fuselage,” search and rescue official Sunarbowo Sandi told AFP from Pangkalan Bun, a town on Borneo with the nearest airstrip to the crash site.
The weather worsened in the afternoon, with heavy rain grounding helicopters, but ships and other vessels were continuing operations, said SB Supriyadi, another search and rescue official.
Sandi said foreign experts would join Indonesian transport safety investigators in the search for the wreckage and the black boxes, which are crucial to determining the cause of the crash.
“Ten investigators from the national transport safety committee (KNKT) along with two French and two Singapore investigators will join the search today to locate the fuselage,” he said.
“We hope that an underwater beacon will be able to detect the weak signal transmitted by the ELT (emergency locator transmitter),” he added.
The transmitter sends a signal supposed to help rescuers find a plane in the event of an accident.
Dozens of navy frogmen and search-and-rescue divers were in the area and ready to go once the fuselage was located, Sandi told AFP.
The plane is believed to be in relatively shallow water of around 25-32 metres (82-105 feet). KNKT air safety investigator Toos Sanitioso told AFP they “hope optimistically” to find the plane in the near future but warned it could take at least a week.
“The most important thing is to find the main wreckage first and within that wreckage, we should be able to find the black box,” he said.
A US State Department official said Washington would continue to work closely “with technical experts in Indonesia and US Defence Department officials to see how else we can help”.